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In this investigation, 22 cloned male piglets were obtained by male fetal fibroblast-cell-derived nuclear transfer. Eighteen of the cloned animals died. The two cell lines did not differ significantly with regard to efficiency of live piglet production. The gross anatomy of the testes of male piglets that died was normal. However, one piglet displayed Leydig cell hypoplasia (LCH). No anatomical defects were detected in the testes of other cloned male piglets. TUNEL analysis of the testis with LCH revealed significant apoptosis in the Leydig cells, while apoptosis was rarely detected in Sertoli cells and spermatogonia. In contrast, testes from the remaining 17 piglets that died appeared normal in size, and their Sertoli and Leydig cell numbers were comparable to those in control piglet testes. Although cloned piglets were derived from fibroblasts obtained from the same fetus, phenotypic instability between cells used for the production of somatic cell cloned piglets suggests that abnormalities in male cloned piglets are caused not by technical problems and/or reprogramming effects, but rather by epigenetically and/or genetically damaged cell-specific effects.
It is still unclear whether nuclear envelope breakdown and premature chromosome condensation are essential for the reprogramming of the donor nucleus following somatic nuclear transfer. To address this, we determined the ability of delayed-activated or simultaneously activated porcine oocytes to undergo nuclear remodelling and development following somatic cell nuclear transfer. A small microtubule aster was observed in association with decondensed chromatin following nuclear transfer, suggesting the introduction of a somatic cell centrosome. In the delayed-activated condition, most fibroblast nuclei divided into two chromosome masses and two pronuclear-like structures following transfer into oocytes. In contrast, fibroblast nuclei in the simultaneously activated condition formed a large, swollen, pronuclear-like structure. Microtubule asters were organised in the vicinity of the nucleus regardless of the number of nuclei. More reconstructed oocytes developed to the blastocyst stage in the delayed-activated condition than in the simultaneously activated condition (p < 0.05). Nine piglets were born from two recipient sows following transfer of delayed-activated reconstructed oocytes, while none developed to full term in the simultaneously activated condition. Fingerprint analysis showed that the PCR-RFLP patterns of the nine offspring were identical to that of the donor pig. These results suggest that the activation of recipient oocytes during nuclear transfer probably relates to the nuclear remodelling process, which can affect the ability of embryos created by somatic cell nuclear transfer to develop.
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